Study: Most US Companies Face Language Barriers

In a global economy where companies are setting their sights on even more international expansion, it's quickly becoming essential for businesses to communicate in foreign languages.

But, does the US workforce have the skills necessary to meet this kind of challenge?

Language Study: Reducing the Impact of Language Barriers, a new study from Forbes Insights, offers some perspective.

For the research, Forbes Insights surveyed more than 100 executives at large US businesses (all had annual revenues of more than $500 million). Among the key findings:

Most US companies face language barriers. More than half (65 percent) of companies surveyed face language barriers that contribute to inefficiency, ineffective collaboration and low productivity, among other factors.

Overseas assignments are more common for executives. Nine in ten respondents agreed that international firms would not be able to compete successfully without world-class managers worldwide.

US companies are at a disadvantage. Three-quarters of respondents agreed that it was easier for foreign nationals to work in the US than for US nationals to work overseas because they are more likely to be multilingual. This obviously leaves US-based organizations, as well as many Americans, at a disadvantage.

Companies are responding to the need for multilingual executives. Two in three firms (66 percent) said they expected US executives going abroad to have basic or intermediate proficiency in the native language.

Clearly, companies will perform better by hiring individuals who can communicate in foreign languages and by helping current employees develop language skills. But, neither of those tasks is likely to be particularly easy especially in the US.

"These results highlight the challenge confronting the US," said Kasia Moreno, editorial director of Forbes Insights. "America is at a disadvantage relative to much of Europe and Asia, where foreign language studyespecially the study of Englishhas long been an effective part of the curriculum, and U.S. companies must compensate for that."

The study is available for download at

TAGS: Finance
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